Ruminating over coffee

Today is my fourth full day in the US and my third in Berkeley. It is cool and crisp this fine Friday morning. I find myself, again, at a neighborhood coffee shop where it is likely that I will have coffee to keep me awake in spite of the jet lag. The jet lag has made me sleep in short bursts, forcing me to spend the early hours awake. Those hours are the afternoon right across the ocean.

I have spent the last two days getting settled in the dorm room where I am staying. It is a big room, probably larger than my room at home, and there’s enough space for me to store my stuff. My cousin Jennifer brought me over and helped me settle in the other day, and we spent the rest of that day mainly walking around both the UC Berkeley campus and the city itself. It was fascinating to be finally in a college town of this sort. One of the highlights for me was getting a glimpse of the library, a place with which I might become familiar sometime soon.

Now, I’m at a neighborhood coffee shop just down the hill from the school where I’m studying. The coffee shop takes a lot of clients grabbing coffee to go, but there are those who are having their coffee and food on the premises. Unlike the chain coffee shop I am used to, there is no loud music, and it is also fascinating to enjoy the relative silence of the shop. The only music one could hear is the sound of the street.

I could be here almost every day, having coffee, but to linger here would be a periodic treat from now on. Orientation begins next week, which would keep me busy. And classes would start the week after. It means that I may very well get my coffee to go more often. And there’s a significant discount for bringing one’s own mug.

Hopefully I get to enjoy my weekend, and on Sunday I’ll be sure to steer clear of that flashpoint which is the white supremacist rally somewhere further down the hill. For now, time to relish the rest of the coffee.


What I did for love

It’s hard to believe, but one consequence of a recent diagnosis and a treatment for it is that I’m no longer able to do one thing I was doing a year back: stay at something, whether an event or gig, really late. It forces me to learn how to say no, and to confront my unreasonable fear of missing out.

It’s unreasonable given my own role in the scheme of things. I could be a chronicler but the best ones are eyewitnesses, which I could no longer be. But it is up to me to tell those stories, and sometimes I may have to tell them in other ways. It starts with a piece I’m finishing on a band that just launched an album.

But for now, I can’t regret what I did for love, to quote my other favorite song from A Chorus Line.

Underground, watch this space

UPDATED (25 September 2016): Overhauled this post.

It was in 2011 when a gig organizer told me in an interview about an organization called the UP Underground Music Community, whose gig series was initially meant to showcase bands from that group. It turns out that I had an encounter with some of their folk even before that, thanks largely to singer/songwriter nights when one or two of their members would play. But I did know a bit about Ang Bandang Shirley, one of their bigger acts.

During what I call the 2012 Research Intensive in Independent Music with music researcher Monika Schoop, I became aware of that generation of UP Underground members who would play a role in my life beyond music. There, I met some people whom I would consider inspirations and friends.

I cannot really claim to be an expert on who the UP Underground Music Community is, or what they are really about. I can only see the effects of the work they’ve fostered on me and on many others. However, I will speak about the three things they value as an organization, and how I have seen them lived out for myself.

The first is respect. It shows in how they acknowledge the diversity of each other’s music, interests, and personalities. It is clear in how they value time and make sure other people’s time is respected, especially in the way they organize their gigs.

As an excursus, I can surmise that the community, or at least some of them, are aware of the roles different people play in the music scene. As the literature notes, these roles are not only those of musicians and audiences. Their Shoot Lo-Fi competition incorporates the work of young filmmakers whose work has become vital in putting local music in newer contexts. And their extensive work as event and gig organizers puts them in another key place in any music scene.

Brotherhood, or to use a French word, fraternite, has to do with how they relate to each other within that community. The ties that form between different generations of members is noticeable. But I have also seen this as being a leaven for fostering camaraderie not only within their circles but also beyond, a force for making connections between people possible.

I placed music last because it is what stands out. Their relative diversity, given the resources to which they have access as musicians, is what has impressed me. From the indie pop sensibilities of Shirley, to the urban electronic work of Arigato, Hato, to the folk and new country-inspired sounds of Ourselves the Elves and The Sun Manager, and to many others I’ve seen or heard, they have been able to express some of their passions and stories, some of which resonate with my own.

As their anniversary approaches, I am grateful to them for being that place where I could see the nexus between art and friendship, as a force drawing people together. I was glad to visit UP Underground Music Community’s anniversary event last Saturday, 24 September 2016, and was once again reminded of how these values were lived out. It is my hope that they will continue to grow and thrive as their fifteenth full year begins.